I’m a Dietitian, and My Toddler Is Obese

I walked out of the pediatrician’s office with the proof in my hand. I already knew it was true, but what I was hoping to deny at my 2-year-old son’s yearly checkup was merely confirmed. My son is obese.

It’s hard to believe my little 36-weeker, who barely made it on the growth chart much of his first year, was actually above the 95th percentile for weight. He’s officially an overweight toddler. Now growth charts aren’t everything, but there’s no denying my toddler is chubby, and his constant requests to “eeaaaaat” confirm it.

I already knew it was a problem, but of course I turn to Dr. Google before we’ve even left the office building. The solutions to “overweight toddlers” made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. They were all easy solutions. The kind of solutions no one would actually be looking for because they’re just a hair above common sense. Don’t give your child too much sugar. Don’t feed him too much. Make sure he runs around. Give him healthy foods to eat. Don’t reward him with treats. Let him feed himself.

Thanks, Doc G.

But I wanted to cry because here I am as a parent and not a dietitian, and I can’t do right by my son and his health. I only serve him healthy foods. He didn’t have a cookie until most of the way through his second year — and even then it was of the homemade, low-sugar variety. He didn’t drink a juice box until he was old enough to steal one on his own at a birthday party. It was the watered-down veggie kind. He eats every single fruit in the world. He’ll do anything for a “nana.” He gets excited when I say “broccoli” and chows down on a carrot like it’s nobody’s business. And sitting still? That’s a funny joke. I’m not ashamed to admit that at 5 a.m. I practically force him to sit down in my lap and watch Henry or Mickey while I wait for at least half of my cup of coffee to make it from my stomach to my brain as I slowly wake up. Besides that, his favorite words (and activitites) are running and jumping.

I fully admit that I probably give in to my 2-year-old’s requests for snacks too often, and I let him eat when he’s not sitting at the table. He eats one two many bowls of Rice Chex most mornings, and I’m fully aware that fruit counts as sugar. But c’mon. What gives?

I know I’m not alone in this. In fact, one-third of kids under the age of 4 are overweight, with one in 10 of them being obese. While my Google search was relatively unhelpful in my hunt for easy answers, I did stumble upon one potential gem. It’s not just for toddlers, which makes it even more frightening and applicable. It’s the quality of our food that’s affecting us so much. Yes, you can blame eating too much and not moving enough for some of our country’s weight issues, but I’m going to venture to say there aren’t too many toddlers that are sitting still and indulging in fried Oreos all day.

Whether it’s the answer to our country’s obesity problem as a whole or not, it’s enough to make me think twice about what’s on my family’s plates, toddler and parents alike. It’s tough to find a balance between high-quality foods and budgeting. It’s easy to pass over the $2.99 per pound organic sweet potatoes and opt for the ones in the bin labeled 89 cents a pound. It’s a clear reflection on my weekly budget and the receipt the cashier hands to me at the end of the trip. It’s harder to see that what you’re putting in your  mouth one day is affecting your health years down the road, but it is. It’s time to refocus and pay more attention not just to what we’re eating (which we do), but where it’s coming from and the truth behind the labels.

For instance, there’s research that states that chemicals and residues in GMO foods (genetically modified organisms) can disrupt your gut flora and  normal functions of the body, such as metabolism. This young girl’s science project shows the inhibited growth of a potato thanks to the chemicals it was treated with. There’s no telling what effect these chemicals have in our bodies and how they affect our weight, among other things. It may sound like a stretch that it’s something as simple as food quality that is affecting our health, but it’s also been shown that many obese individuals are also “food insecure,” meaning they don’t have consistent access to food, and I’d imagine when they do, it’s not organic, GMO-antibiotic, cage-free quality).

So for now, the focus is on the source and the quality of the foods entering our house, not what’s easiest or cheapest.

Photo credit: Heather Neal

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